Politics of North Korea

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The Juche Tower ('Tower of Juche Idea').
Emblem of North Korea.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
North Korea
Foreign relations

The politics of North Korea takes place within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Chang-yŏp and later attributed to Kim Il-sung.[1][2] In practice, North Korea functions as a one-party state under a totalitarian[3] family dictatorship,[4][5] described even as an absolute monarchy[6][7][8] with Kim Il-sung and his heirs as its rulers.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, while admitting that "there is no consensus on how to measure democracy" and that "definitions of democracy are contested," lists North Korea as the most authoritarian regime in its index of democracy assessing 167 countries.[9]

North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. While the North Korean constitution formally guarantees protection of human rights, in practice there are severe limits on freedom of expression, and the government closely supervises the lives of North Korean citizens. The constitution defines the DPRK as "a dictatorship of people's democracy" under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea, which is given legal supremacy over other political parties. Despite the constitution's provisions for democracy, in practice, the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un (grandson of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung), exercises absolute control over the government and the country.

The ruling party is the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). The WPK has been in power since its creation in 1948. Two minor political parties also exist, but are legally bound to accept the ruling role of the WPK.[10] Elections occur only in single-candidate races where the candidate is effectively selected beforehand by the WPK.[3] Kim Il-sung ruled the country from 1948 until his death in July 1994, holding the offices of General Secretary of the WPK from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1972), Prime Minister of North Korea from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994.

He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il. While the younger Kim had been his father's designated successor since the 1980s, it took him three years to consolidate his power. He was named to his father's old post of General Secretary in 1997, and in 1998 became chairman of the National Defence Commission, which gave him command of the armed forces. The constitution was amended to make the NDC chairmanship "the highest post in the state." At the same time, the presidential post was written out of the constitution, and Kim Il-sung was designated "Eternal President of the Republic" in order to honor his memory forever. Most analysts believe the title to be a product of the cult of personality he cultivated during his life.

The Western world generally views North Korea as a dictatorship; the government has formally replaced all references to Marxism–Leninism in its constitution with the locally developed concept of Juche, or self-reliance. In recent years, there has been great emphasis on the Songun or "military-first" philosophy. All references to communism were removed from the North Korean constitution in 2009.[11]

The status of the military has been enhanced, and it appears to occupy the center of the North Korean political system; all the social sectors are forced to follow the military spirit and adopt military methods. Kim Jong-il's public activity focused heavily on "on-the-spot guidance" of places and events related to the military. The enhanced status of the military and military-centered political system was confirmed at the first session of the 10th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) by the promotion of NDC members into the official power hierarchy. All ten NDC members were ranked within the top twenty on September 5, and all but one occupied the top twenty at the fiftieth anniversary of the National Foundation Day on September 9.

Political parties and elections[edit]

According to the constitution, North Korea is a Democratic Republic and the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and Provincial People's Assemblies (PPA) are elected by direct universal suffrage and secret ballot. Suffrage is guaranteed to all citizens aged 17 and over.[10] In reality, elections in North Korea are non-competitive and feature single-candidate races only. Those who want to vote against the sole candidate on the ballot must go to a special booth - without secrecy - to cross out the candidate's name before dropping it into the ballot box—an act which, according to many North Korean defectors, is far too risky to even contemplate.[12]

All elected candidates are members of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, a popular front dominated by the WPK. The two minor parties in the coalition are the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Korean Social Democratic Party; they also have a few elected officials. The WPK exercises direct control over the candidates selected for election by members of the other two parties.[3]

e • d Summary of the 8 March 2009 North Korea Supreme People's Assembly election results
List Seats Votes (%)
Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland
Total 687 100.00%
Turnout: 99.98%

Political ideology[edit]

Main article: Juche

Originally a close ally of Stalin's USSR, North Korea has taken steps to isolate itself from the rest of the world Communist movement. Juche, an ideology of self-reliance, replaced Marxism–Leninism as the official ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972.[15][16] In 2009, the constitution was amended again, quietly removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn'gŭl: 공산주의).[17]

Political developments[edit]

Portraits of the Eternal President, Kim Il-sung (left), and the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party, Kim Jong-il (right).

For much of its history, North Korean politics have been dominated by its adversarial relationship with South Korea. During the Cold War, North Korea aligned with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The North Korean government invested heavily in its military, hoping to develop the capability to reunify Korea by force if possible and also preparing to repel any attack by South Korea or the United States. Following the doctrine of Juche, North Korea aimed for a high degree of economic independence and the mobilization of all the resources of the nation to defend Korean sovereignty against foreign powers.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the loss of Soviet aid, North Korea faced a long period of economic crisis, including severe agricultural and industrial shortages. North Korea's main political issue has been to find a way to sustain its economy without compromising the internal stability of its government or its ability to respond to perceived external threats. To date, North Korean efforts to improve relations with South Korea to increase trade and to receive development assistance have been mildly successful, but North Korea's determination to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has prevented stable relations with both South Korea and the United States. North Korea has also experimented with market economics in some sectors of its economy, but these have had limited impact. Some outside observers have suggested that Kim Jong-il himself favored such reforms but that some parts of the party and the military resisted any changes that might threaten stability for North Korea.[citation needed]

Although there are occasional reports of signs of opposition to the government, these appear to be isolated, and there is no evidence of major internal threats to the current regime. Some foreign analysts[who?] have pointed to widespread starvation, increased emigration through North Korea-China border, and new sources of information about the outside world for ordinary North Koreans as factors pointing to an imminent collapse of the regime.[citation needed] However, North Korea has remained stable in spite of more than a decade of such predictions. The Workers' Party of Korea maintains a monopoly on political power and Kim Jong-il remained the leader of the country until 2011, ever since he first gained power following the death of his father.

According to Cheong Seong-chang of Sejong Institute, speaking on June 25, 2012, there is some possibility that the new leader Kim Jong-un, who has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did, will consider economic reforms and normalization of international relations.[18]

Political uncertainty and transparency[edit]


When people hear the word North Korea, most of them tend to think of words like "nuclear bomb and missile tests" or "international gang" or "violators of human rights." See also (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_North_Korea) However, it is necessary to review the domestic, political institutions in order to fully understand any state, than to simply judge them without fully knowing. According to David Kang, North Korea could be more normal than what the world has labeled it since most people have ideas of North Korea from the time of Kim Il Sung, but in reality it also has government institutions, economy, people, and society. North Korea's military is just one aspect of the many other aspects, such as the social relations like the sports they are participating in, diplomats to the state itself, and the people's culture.

Thus it is crucial to examine whether North Korea's policies are products of internal factors or external factors.It is possible to form general hypothesis about internal factors meaning that their policies may be due to domestic economy and ideology (Juche Ideology) or external factors which could be their insecurity and feeling of threat, or the "kill chain ability." There are three scholars who proposed different perspectives questioning the uncertainty and transparency of North Korea.

The first is from McEachern's Inside the Red Box, McEachern considers that there is transparency problem in North Korea due to purges, Kim Jong Un's fiat, and the Korean Workers Party (KWP) being used as a tool for wielding nationalism.But the problem should look inside the box, because in reality there are principal-agent issues and Kim and his advisors are having to confront institutions that attempt to frame decision-making such as the bureaucratic actors who are concerned about money, materials, and budget. Then there is KPA (Korean People's Army) who are being pragmatic and not wanting to get into fights. Thus, there are changes actually happening and more institutional checks and balances when one looks 'inside the box.'

Secondly, according to Haggard and Noland Famine in North Korea, The author considers famine has led to structural and economic problems. There is distrust among the people about the government and famine has made North Korea pluralistic. Thus North Korean people try to step up and get involved in selling and growing crops, so it is informal trade and less controlled. Thus North Korea is more marketized than it ever was, meaning famine has opened up North Korea.But there is so much corruption, so inequality is very severe.

Lastly, according to Kim Suk- young's Illusive Utopia, the author emphasizes the every day, daily aspect of North Korea and view North Koreans just like any other people who have social gatherings, have family ties, and even holidays. Also, people in North Korea have some agency through mediums like propagandas.

Thus, according to David Kang who examined three other outside sources, has implied that the uncertainty and transparency problem needs to be solved by recognizing the society, and being aware that the illusions that people outside of North Korea hold is sometimes unlikely, that North Korea should integrate for the better market, countries who are closely related to N. Korea, such as USA and S. Korea should carefully consider the trade-offs by coordinating understanding, and finally for those who are outside of N. Korea to understand and update North Korea's state of field and the current status.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Becker, Jasper (2005), Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea, New York City: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517044-X 
  2. ^ B. R. Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Pages 45–46. Paperback edition. (2011)
  3. ^ a b c "Freedom in the World, 2006". Freedom House. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  4. ^ Barbara Demick and John M. Glionna (December 19, 2011). "Key figures in North Korea's family dictatorship". The Seattle Times. 
  5. ^ Sheridan, Michael (16 September 2007). "A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  6. ^ Young W. Kihl, Hong Nack Kim. North Korea: The Politics of Regime Survival. Armonk, New York, USA: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2006. Pp 56.
  7. ^ Robert A. Scalapino, Chong-Sik Lee. The Society. University of California Press, 1972. Pp. 689.
  8. ^ Bong Youn Choy. A history of the Korean reunification movement: its issues and prospects. Research Committee on Korean Reunification, Institute of International Studies, Bradley University, 1984. Pp. 117.
  9. ^ "Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index 2006" (PDF). Economist Intelligence Unit. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-09. 
  10. ^ a b Wikisource:Constitution of North Korea
  11. ^ Herskovitz, Jon (2009-09-28). "North Korea drops communism, boosts "Dear Leader"". Reuters. 
  12. ^ "North Korea votes for new rubber-stamp parliament," Associated Press, March 8, 2009.
  13. ^ Moon, Angela; Sugita Katyal; Ralph Boulton (2009-03-08). "N.Korea vote may point to Kim successor". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  14. ^ "IPU PARLINE Database: Choe Go In Min Hoe Ui". Inter-Parliamentary Union. 
  15. ^ Wikisource:Constitution of North Korea (1972)
  16. ^ Martin, Bradley K. (2004). Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York City, New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 111. ISBN 0-312-32322-0. Although it was in that 1955 speech that Kim gave full voice to his arguments for juche, he had been talking along similar lines as early as 1948. 
  17. ^ DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution (Archived at WebCite)
  18. ^ Song Sang-ho (June 27, 2012). "N.K. leader seen moving toward economic reform". The Korea Herald. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ David C. Kang, “They Think They’re Normal: Enduring Questions and New Research on North Korea,” International Security, Vol. 36, No. 3, Winter 2011/12, pp. 142-171.

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